Cashless Debit Card extended to NT

·2-min read

About 25,000 income management participants in the Northern Territory have become eligible for the federal government's controversial Cashless Debit Card.

The move comes after the scheme was extended for another two years during late-night sittings of federal parliament in December.

As part of the extended program, people in the NT who currently use the BasicsCard to manage their welfare spending can now change to a system the government says offers them access to the best available technology.

Minister for Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says the upgraded card will give participants more choice over where and how they shop.

"We know the BasicsCard has limitations," she said.

"This is why we are working to ensure the Cashless Debit Card is accepted at almost one million EFTPOS terminals nationwide compared with the BasicsCard which only allows participants to shop at about 17,000 merchants."

The minister said the Cashless Debit Card also allowed users to shop and pay bills online, use contactless purchasing, set recurring deductions and make transfers to other accounts.

"Cashless welfare is not about controlling where welfare payments are spent but seeks to limit the amount of taxpayer-funded social security which is used for alcohol and gambling products," Minister Ruston said.

"We know this program helps limit the ability for problem consumption to cause social harm for individuals, their families and communities."

As well as those in the NT, the extended scheme also allowed income management participants in Cape York, Queensland, to switch to the Cashless Debit Card from Wednesday and allowed for people in Bundaberg and Hervey Bay to volunteer for the program.

But when the legislation passed, Labor's social services spokeswoman Linda Burney said the government had underestimated community resistance and resentment of the plan.

"Continuing this policy is a massive mistake," she told parliament at the time.

Indigenous, human rights and welfare groups were equally dismayed the "discriminatory and punitive" cards would continue.

"The CDC is dehumanising and attempts, unsuccessfully, to treat the symptoms of colonialism and dispossession," Amnesty International Indigenous rights campaigner Nolan Hunter said.

Up to 80 per cent of welfare benefits are quarantined on the cards so money cannot be spent on alcohol, gambling or withdrawn as cash.

Welfare recipients in Ceduna in South Australia and the East Kimberley and Goldfields in Western Australia are also on the cards, with the government previously conceding most participants in those states were Indigenous.

Kathryn Wilkes, who leads a group called No Cashless Debit Card Australia, said the program was causing serious harm to the most vulnerable members of the community.

She said they were struggling to cope with having daily choices stripped from their hands.

"It has failed to meet its own objectives, it has failed on human and economic rights grounds," Ms Wilkes said.